Potatoes are the perfect crop to grow in an area where you’ve just started a garden. Maybe you’ve reclaimed an area of lawn or have developed a bed that has been neglected. Potatoes are tolerant of heavy, acid soil and don’t need much care between planting and harvesting. If you mulch them well it will keep down the weeds and keep them moist. It’s a good time to sow potatoes now – there are seed potatoes available in the shops and the risk of frost has passed in Wellington.
There’s lots of advice about how to sow potatoes. I plant the seed tubers with a trowel in a grid pattern, 30cm apart in each direction, between 5 and 10cm below the surface of the soil. ‘Chitting’ is the process of starting tubers into growth indoors – laying them out in a cool, light room to grow shoots. I don’t bother with this, although it’s a good way to get very early potatoes in a frosty area, as long as your careful not to knock off the shoots when you plant them.
When the shoots appear above the ground I mulch between them with seaweed or straw. I’ll add another layer of mulch when the shoots get taller. Potatoes are ready when the leaves turn yellow and die down. Store in a cool, dark place in a calico bag. We’re still eating potatoes I harvested at the end of last summer that have kept very well.
The photo shows a selection of twelve of the potato varieties I grew in 2006 – I leave you to match them with the photo. Try some Maori, heritage and modern varieties. They all have strengths and weaknesses. I’ve just finished a fascinating book about the history of the potato, Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History. Who would guess the humble spud had had such an influence on the world?
catriona long oval tubers with attractive blue eyes and pale yellow flesh.
huakaroro creamy skin and cream coloured flesh, slightly knobbly small tubers.
agria smooth, cream-skinned, medium oval with deep yellow flesh
gladstone white tubers with slight pink blush on skin.
tutaekuri or urenika long yam-like tuber with dark purple skin and flesh.
ladies finger long uniform fingerling tubers, yellow, firm, waxy flesh.
te Maori smooth purple skin with white flesh and occasional internal purple pattern.
golden wonder long tubers with creamy flesh, dry, floury.
jersey bennes oval to kidney shaped with white skin and white flesh.
red rascal bright red skin and white flesh, even, smooth, oval tubers.
pink fir apple salad potato with distinctive, long, knobbly tubers, yellow flesh.
old blue blue, almost purple skin and blue all the way through.